Senate scandal: RCMP focus could let Nigel Wright off hook

Experts explain why Wright could avoid legal consequences if RCMP focus on possible criminal offences

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

OTTAWA – Nigel Wright could avoid facing the legal consequences for his central role in the Senate expenses scandal if the RCMP remains focused strictly on possible criminal offences, parliamentary law experts say.

They believe the surest route for prosecutors against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff is an obscure section of the Parliament of Canada Act.

But, so far at least, the Mounties do not appear to be considering it.

Documents filed in court show the RCMP is intent on proving Wright, along with Sen. Mike Duffy, is guilty of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as spelled out in the Criminal Code.

Wright personally gave Duffy $90,000 so that the disgraced senator could pay back disputed living expense claims.

Email trails obtained by the RCMP show Wright orchestrated a deal whereby Duffy publicly announced he’d repaid the Senate while the Prime Minister’s Office ensured the senator was fully reimbursed, that a Senate committee report on his expenses was softened and that an independent audit raised no questions as to Duffy’s eligibility to sit as a senator for P.E.I., although he lived primarily in Ottawa.

For Rob Walsh, former law clerk for the House of Commons, the Wright-Duffy transaction appears on its face to be a clear violation of Sec. 16 of the Parliament of Canada Act.

Walsh said he believes it would be easier to secure a conviction under the act than under any of the Criminal Code provisions cited thus far by the RCMP. Indeed, he doubts criminal charges could be made to stick in relation to the Wright-Duffy deal.

“The evidentiary burden I think is less (under the act) and, to that extent, it ought to be an easier task to prosecute,” Walsh said in an interview.

While criminal charges would require proof of intent to act corruptly, the act is more straightforward in stipulating that it’s illegal to give money to a senator or for a senator to take it.

“Under Sec. 16, it doesn’t matter where the money came from or why,” Walsh said.

Former Liberal MP Derek Lee, a lawyer and acknowledged expert on parliamentary procedure and law, agreed with that assessment.

“There’s all kinds of protections and obstacles in the Criminal Code … and it might be difficult to get a prosecutor to run with this,” Lee said in an interview.

By contrast, he said Sec. 16 of the Parliament of Canada Act is “simpler and more direct and it seems to pertain more, to fit better with the fact situation” of the Wright-Duffy deal.

The act specifies that no senator shall receive “any compensation, directly or indirectly,” for services rendered in relation to any bill, contract, controversy, accusation or other matter before the Senate, House of Commons or any parliamentary committee.

A senator who contravenes the section is “guilty of an offence and liable to a fine” of between $1,000 and $4,000.

The act further stipulates that it is an “indictable offence” to offer compensation to a senator, punishable by up to one year imprisonment and a fine of $500 to $2,000.

An RCMP spokeswoman declined to comment on why the Mounties have made no mention of the act in documents filed in court thus far.

It would appear that no one has ever been prosecuted under Sec. 16 of the act. No record of a prosecution could be found by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who would be responsible for charges laid under the act, the Justice Department or the Library of Parliament.

Lee speculated that the absence of any precedents might account for the RCMP’s apparent reluctance to pursue charges under the act against Duffy and Wright.

“Nobody and their brother, except parliamentarians, would have much of an experience in dealing with the Parliament of Canada Act. They might even consider it off limits,” he said.

“No policeman, untrained specifically in this law, is going to go out on his own and break new ground … This isn’t a part of their tool kit.”

Walsh speculated that the Mounties may be holding Sec. 16 in reserve, intending to use it if they can’t ultimately make the case for charges under the Criminal Code.

The RCMP may also be citing the Criminal Code provisions for now, as it seeks court approval to access more evidence, because they are seen as being the most serious potential charges that could arise from the affair.

Still, Walsh said a charge under the Parliament of Canada Act would be no trifling matter.

“It’s not to be diminished by being described as a mere statutory offence … This is an indictable offence, there’s no two ways about that, and it has to be taken seriously.”

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Senate scandal: RCMP focus could let Nigel Wright off hook

  1. No surprise here. Paying for one’s crimes is only expected of the poor.

    • The only real crimes indicated so far has been the relentless pursuit of the Conservative government by Macleans and the CBC.
      I’ll bet if they looked really hard, they’d find another story to follow. But don’t count on it!

      • You mean it’s a crime to report that the highest officials of the highest office in the land conspired to hide abuse of government funds? Was state fascism implemented while I was shoveling or something?

      • So you’re OK with bribing Canadian Senators? You must be a Conservative.

      • But that’s the point, nobody even has to look very hard anymore, the CONS are “imploding” just fine, all by themselves.

    • The majority of wealthy folks, and poor folks….do NOT engage in criminal activity.
      I think ANYONE who breaks the law needs to be held responsible.
      I do agree, however, that a wealthy person is more likely to get away with criminal behaviour than is a poor one. Being rich, buys a lot of good (and unethical) lawyers.

  2. I would surmise that most of the “journalists” in the media, or reporters of CTV, CBC haven’t even read the deloitte audit.
    If they did, they would realize that Duffy was only found to have inappropriately claimed about $1050 in a per diem. He claimed about 10 days of expenses when he was actually on vacation, and therefore not entitled to any reimbursement. I’m sure many MP’s or Senators have been through the same process.
    Let’s be frank. The media has played up this non-story simply because they know that most people won’t think for themselves…but will instead rely upon what they read in the media…biased as it is.
    The Duffy-Affair, was anything but. What happened is pretty clear to anyone who wants to think clearly, or be honest about the situation.
    Duffy was found to have claimed housing expenses for a residence in PEI, when in fact he’s had a house in Ottawa for about 30 years. Claiming these allowances was unethical, but apparently not a criminal act.
    Harper found out about it…..and ordered Duffy to pay the money back.
    Duffy was being intransigient about it and didn’t think he needed to pay the money back, because according to the lax rules….he was entitled to the money.
    Nigel wright……being the good “smoother” he is….as well as being extremely wealthy tried to “fix” the problem by paying back the taxpayers from his own pocket so that Duffy wouldn’t rock the boat. That’s right…..a guy in the PMO used his OWN MONEY to pay back the taxpayers.
    Wright…did all of this behind the PM’s back, and the PM found out about it.
    What did harper do? He fired Wright (regrettably) and booted Duff from caucus, along with two other senators who did the same thing.
    Media firestorm of accusations…blah..blah…blah……about Conservative Senators,
    And almost complete media silence about Liberal Senators who actually ENGAGED IN FRAUD intentionally….namely Judy Sgro, and Mac Harb.
    The media of course, were not interested in ACTUAL fraud by Liberals, but would instead spend 8 months burning up the airwaves, and killing trees by the bucketload to report on Conservative senators who bent the rules, but did not engage in any actual fraud.
    Tell me again why we need SUNTV?
    the majority of media in Canada have been a joke for 30 years now….there are very few real reporters capable of asking the hard questions. They prefer to plagiarize the work of others’ and disregard any sense of impartiality, or procedural fairness.
    that is why no one trusts them.

  3. …you mean just like the RCMP,…, who also let those “4 Horsemen of Nortel Networks” completely off the hook.
    Yep, no suprise here at all.

    • Dont’ get me started on Nortel….I lost a small fortune.
      Difference of course, is that NORTEL isn’t Government.

      • I hear you. and I also know many firends, family, and ex-employee’s, myself included, that lost a lot because of that insanity..
        That was then, what is even more worse, these days I fear, is that there is very little “difference” between Corporations, and Government. :(

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